Too Many Conferences, Not Too Much Information


Last month, I discussed the strategic side of professional development: advanced degree programs and other professional training programs. I talked about how important it was to offer benefits to employees to take advantage of these opportunities and how important it is for each of us to keep developing ourselves. Advanced degrees and college courses are a long-term path to further development. For most of us in the display business, the short-term tactical path is conferences and seminars. Whenever possible, I try to attend technical seminars and topical conferences so I can keep current on new products and technology innovations. But guess what? There are just too many opportunities. Between September 2007 and September 2008, I counted over 30 meaningful industry-related conference/seminar events with national or international appeal, and I only checked a few popular Web sites. If I also count regional and local events in the U.S., the number is 50 or more. Unless one of these events takes place in your local area, attendance can be a significant expense. Counting airfare, hotel, rental car, registration fees, etc., can easily be more than US$1500 per person. A typical company would need to send at least 2 or 3 people to most events in order to get a comprehensive perspective and cover all aspects. Most companies cannot possibly afford to support more than a few of these events each year with employee attendance, unless they have a specific marketing or promotional interest. But, unfortunately, most of these events are unique and cover somewhat differing aspects of display technology. Even if you further sort the list into markets and technologies, assuming any one of us is not focused on everything, you still get over a dozen in each major category you should be looking seriously at. That's still an impossible number to support.

Overall, attendance at display-industry conferences is down compared to previous years. This seems to correspond coincidentally with the increase in the number of events. Exhibition revenue and marketing spending at these events is also down industry wide. Numerous industry groups including SID organize these events and in many cases they rely at least partially on the income to fund their other endeavors. Some organizers are "for profit" companies, others are not. All of them need industry participation to survive. The problem now appears to be a combination of the sheer number of events combined with continuing reductions in corporate budgets has put an upper limit on what the organizers of these events can expect to accomplish. Only a small number of larger events such as FPD International and DisplayWeek actually turn a profit and are showing sustained growth. Most others either cover their expenses or operate at a loss for the betterment of the industry. Of course, organizers cannot afford to subsidize all of their events and unless some make money, they will not survive.

The display industry needs much of the content at many of these events. Designers and researchers need to be at these events to keep pace. Marketing groups need these events to promote their products and grow their businesses. Organizers need these events to fund their other endeavors. So, with all of us having complimentary needs it seems logical that we need to find a solution together. I think the most obvious one is collaboration among organizing groups to combine content and reduce the total amount of independent events. While I do not expect competing marketing firms to team up, non-profit- and profit-focused groups can certainly partner in some form, sharing expenses and income in a mutually beneficial way. Combining the content into bigger and fewer events will almost certainly reduce total expenses and maximize attendee value. Organizers should also be exploring opportunities for virtual seminars and exhibitions over the internet, which eliminates the need for attendee travel. These events could be held in the evenings, produced in TV studios, and piped to major sponsors via dedicated satellite feeds and to individual attendees over the Internet. The technology is all available, the model has not yet been tested that I know of.

Provided we do see some voluntary consolidation in upcoming years, I think it is critical that industry companies make the commitment to send their employees to these events and support them with marketing money. These events are vital and everyone benefits from the concentrated know-how that is available. Without these events, I believe our entire industry will suffer. So, please work in whatever sphere of influence you can to help partnerships, consolidation, and support of these important assets to our industry.

This issue is our annual LCD Technology issue and I'm very pleased to welcome first-time guest-editor Jim Anderson, Advanced Physicist from 3M Project Systems Division. Jim brought a fresh and creative perspective to the role and I believe each of the articles presents a unique and important aspect of LCD technology. The topic, of course, is so broad that almost anything could be considered as relevant, but we tried to bring you three specific articles that represent core opportunities for achieving a performance improvement in mainstream products.

We're also featuring this month a contribution from Brigadier General Edward Harrington, U.S. Army retired. General Harrington is a colleague of ours at Crane Corporation and he and I have had many discussions about the advancement of display technology specifically for military applications. While it may seem obvious at first how soldiers can use electronic displays and what technologies would be valuable, the process to go from an idea to a practical implementation is very complex. Ed uses the term "situational awareness" to describe what the U.S. army is trying to achieve in every aspect of their deployment of advanced systems. The best displays are those that provide sufficient information content in extreme operating environments over very long periods of time. Working as part of very complex information systems, they provide the right amount of information to protect the soldier without overloading them or producing needless distractions of extra content. In this world, "best" is not always better and reliability and utility really define the best criteria for success. I hope you will enjoy his contribution and maybe it will spark new ideas to enhance products or accelerate the deployment of new technology into this complex marketplace.